What Life Is Strange Teaches us about child grooming.

IMPORTANT: Spoilers for all episodes of the original Life Is Strange game.
DISCLAIMER: These ‘kids’ are 17/18, so technically they are adults. However, I class it as child grooming as they are still students.

Life Is Strange is a hard-hitting episodic game that came out in 2015. It contains five episodes that focus on protagonist Max Caufield, who has the new-found ability of time travel. It sounds fun. It is fun.  However, it definitely has a dark side. The game features drugging, potential suicide, and more importantly, to this article, child grooming. Although Max was part of the child grooming, the focus on this article will primarily be based on two other characters: Nathan Prescott and Victoria Chase.

Victoria Chase is the Heather Chandler/ Regina George of Life Is Strange. She is 100% the stereotypical mean girl in every single way. She’s mean (obviously), rich, and an all-around awful person. Victoria is the kind of person that friendly people go out of their ways to ignore actively. Throughout the game, she definitely goes through some changes. She softens up by Episode 4, which is where the metaphorical bomb drops. You see, Victoria is also a major suck up to her photography teacher, Mark Jefferson. She even goes as far as to flirt with him, trying to get her entry to the competition to win the top prize (which it does). She is seen talking to him several times throughout the game, the first one being in the classroom at the end of the lesson in Episode 1, where she gets annoyed at Max for interrupting their conversation. It is relatively obvious to the player that Victoria admires her teacher. As Victoria is a typical ‘queen bee’, you can imagine that her respect is hard to earn.
Victoria’s parents own a gallery, and throughout the game, you learn that Victoria is trying to get her work to be displayed in art galleries (and is currently failing to do so). She has all the most expensive equipment and is even looking into buying a 3D printer, but she feels sub-par in comparison to Max, which is likely why she treats the protagonist so poorly. She is desperate to win the ‘everyday heroes’ contest in order to get some kind of recognition in the industry. She even flirts with Jefferson and threatens him to tell everyone that he offered to let her win ‘for a favour… or something’, indirectly saying that she would lie and get him fired, telling everyone that they pursued a sexual relationship.

Okay, let’s move on slightly and talk about the ‘dark room’. We will return to Victoria, all in good time. So, the ‘dark room’ is a place owned by the Prescott family. There will be much more on them later. Still, all you really need to know right now is that they are a very wealthy family who basically owns Arcadia Bay, and Nathan (who is very important to this whole situation) is, in fact, a Prescott. The ‘dark room’ is located in the Prescott bunker, and it’s decked out in everything to survive a Zombie apocalypse. The bunker itself is located underneath a very old, run-down barn that Max and Chloe (Max’s best friend) find after doing a lot of detective work. They didn’t initially know that the Prescott family owned it, but when they found a bunch of documents showing how much the Prescott family has done for Arcadia Bay, it was evident who this barn belonged to. Max looked around the barn while Chloe looked through a chest full of documentation. After a little bit of work, Max finds and opens the bunker, which is very clearly brand new.
This bunker can be different to get into, and the player will need to do a few time rewinds before getting there, but it is worth it. It is absolutely laced with evidence, all pointing directly at Nathan Prescott. Nathan was not the nicest person in the game, so the protagonists were already highly critical of him while stumbling across all of this stuff. The further they get into the bunker, the creepier it gets. Top of the range equipment? Yeah, that’s fine, I mean, he is a photography student. Throughout the game, you get the general vibe that Nathan Prescott is an entitled brat who hasn’t learnt right from wrong yet. The bunker is definitely shady from the get-go, and the more evidence you find that stacks up against Nathan, the more you begin to worry about the actions that he has taken, and exactly what he uses this room for.
Then you find the folders. They are these red folders with names of girls written on them. Two names immediately attract the player, and those names are ‘Kate Marsh’ and ‘Rachel Amber’. These names stick out as they are basically the main reason you were doing all of the super-secret detective work in the first place. Kate Marsh had either just committed suicide or, if you are lucky and managed to convince her not to jump, she had just attempted to commit suicide by jumping off the roof of the Blackwell dormitories; Rachel Amber is Chloe’s entire motivation for pretty much everything in this game. She had gone missing before the game begins, but you get the sense that there is definitely something more going on as the game constantly throws her missing posters in your face. In these folders, you find images of the girl that corresponds to the folder. The photography shows each girl in vulnerable positions, looking spaced out and in some cases, scared. It was very suspicious, but it only gets worse from this point on. There is one particular photograph of Rachel Amber, who was Chloe’s ‘angel’, in which she is posing with Nathan Prescott in a location that Chloe immediately recognises as the junkyard that she used to hang out with Rachel in (she also took Max there in an earlier episode). They quickly go to this particular spot, and it does not end well in any way possible.
Rachel Amber is buried in the junkyard. The smell is repulsive. Chloe is traumatised after digging up the body of her best friend/lover after believing that she was just missing for six months.
So, Chloe is understandably furious at this point, so the duo run off to find who they think is guilty of murdering Rachel- Nathan. Only he’s nowhere to be seen. Flashforward, they go back to check that Rachel’s body is still there and Max gets drugged, and Chloe gets shot. I know what you’re thinking- ‘dang that Nathan kid needs to calm down!’. Yeah, that’s pretty much what everyone was thinking at this point. And everyone was wrong. It is then revealed seconds later that the person who shot – and essentially just killed – Chloe was not Nathan Prescott, but in fact one Mr Mark Jefferson, the famous photography teacher.

The gamer is ultimately confused by this because everyone trusted Mark Jefferson. He was a teacher, a famous photographer. He was well known, well-liked. He was trusted. So what are you meant to think?

Informally, I would easily say that Mark Jefferson is the biggest pile of revolting trash in any video game ever (slight exaggeration because Kamoshida from Persona 5 exists, but Jefferson is definitely a close second). Formally, I would say that his character shows off some fantastic writing from the team, and I applaud them for making such an obviously shady character and disguising him in plain sight. At the end of this game, emotions were high, but one thing I could not deny is how well this part of the story was written. It is threaded secretly throughout the game, so going back to do a second playthrough leaves you slightly uncomfortable for the entire game at worst, but absolutely ranging at best. Plain and straightforward, Jefferson is a creep. Going back, it’s obvious, and the game is desperate to make you realise this.
After spending a bit of time in the dark room, Max has a nightmare where you are forced to go through the first class again. And that is pretty much when you realise how unobservant you were throughout the entire playthrough. The game literally throws it in your face. Jefferson says this within the first half an hour of the game:

“Seriously, though, I could frame any one of you in a dark corner,

and capture you in a moment of desperation.”

Every single inch of that screams that he’s a creep, right? But it goes completely unnoticed until later on in the game, until after you find a dead girl, your best friend has been shot by this guy, and you have been drugged and kidnapped. He said this in a class full of kids, most of whom looked up to him. Everyone seemed to admire him for this. He is one of the best photographers around, and everyone loves his work. This work is a result of drugging all of these poor girls. This work is the result of grooming, in more ways than what is immediately evident.

Going back to Victoria Chase, the winner of the ‘Everyday Heroes’ competition and if you’re not careful, the girl who ends up on the floor next to Max in the Dark Room. This was hinted at previously in the game because you find an empty folder with Victoria’s name on it. Still, since you assume that Nathan was behind all of this, you don’t think much about Victoria’s relationship with Jefferson. After all, Nathan and Victoria seem pretty close. They share emails, hang out together, and it is pretty apparent that they are friends. When you think of Victoria’s relationship with Jefferson, however, it goes a little bit deeper. Victoria is seen continuously flirting with Jefferson, and he seemingly pushes away her advances. However, it is also important to remember the one scene where Victoria and Jefferson can be seen together pretty late at night when no one else is in the school. This suggests that Jefferson went out of his way to help Victoria; to make her feel special. Anything could have happened during this time. They were alone. But from their dialogue and considering they had no idea that Max and Chloe were peaking around, it has to be assumed that they were genuinely working on Victoria’s photography work. Jefferson is an established, well-known photographer, after all. That would make sense. But what doesn’t make sense is why they would be staying behind so late. The player knows that no one else is in the school because they go into the school after Jefferson and Victoria. The only person they could potentially get caught by is the school’s security guard, David. So why were they staying behind so late? Although when they are outside of the school, Victoria does make a comment about spreading a rumour, the timing of this situation suggests something slightly different. Jefferson is grooming Victoria. He is slowly gaining her trust, bit by bit. Helping her with her portfolio after hours, announcing her as the winner of the everyday hero competition, going out of his way to help her. Kati Morton explains in 7 stages of grooming by a sexual predator that the predator – Jefferson – could slowly gain the trust of their victim by offering their help. Then they become essential as the predator fulfils a need by giving advice. Victoria is undeniably Jefferson’s next Dark Room victim, yet this argument still feels weak. Jefferson is a teacher. He is meant to help his students, after all. The most substantial bit of evidence here is that Jefferson and Victoria were together, alone, very late at night. But even then, they were still at school, and somewhere Victoria felt safe. It’s not like Jefferson asked her back to his place. They could have been caught by David, the security guard that was previously mentioned.

There is a strong argument of grooming somewhere else, however. And that somewhere else is Nathan Prescott.

Nathan is a very push and go character of the Life Is Strange franchise. Some love him, and some hate him, some do not have a strong opinion. At the beginning of the game, he shoots Chloe. He is aggressive and very clearly entitled. Nathan’s family rules Arcadia Bay. Above all his other traits, good or bad, he does come off as entitled. He is the Draco Malfoy “my father will hear about this” type of kid. It makes you feel annoyed, and it’s almost like you feel like he deserves terrible things, because he just goes running back to his father whenever anything goes wrong, or he reminds you that his family owns the town whenever you have a disagreement.  You can go through the entire game hating Nathan’s guts, but there’s one part that makes you feel sorry for the guy. In Episode 5, when Max is driving back through the storm, she gets a voice message from Nathan. It is him apologising for hurting everyone, stating that he never wanted to hurt the people he hurt and that Jefferson is coming after him. He also warns Max that Jefferson was going to target Max next. He voice acting in this scene is exceptional, to say the least. The pain in Nathan’s voice is evident. You can tell that this boy is broken; everything he has ever known is wrong. And this is because he was groomed.

The dark room is Prescott owned. It has everything that Mark Jefferson could have ever needed. Supplies to last months, expensive equipment, plenty of storage, and it was in a secure location that was not available to the general public but was easily accessible to him. So, the question that stuck in my mind after playing wasn’t “did I make the right decision regarding Chloe?”. It was “how the hell did Mark Jefferson manage to get on such good terms which a power-hungry family, and put their son in a position that he was able to be framed for Jefferson’s crimes, all while just being a seemingly normal, friendly teacher at Blackwell Academy?”.  

It’s a big question and not one to just throw away. In a game that so openly tackles issues such as suicide, cyberbullying and gun violence, how was this issue hidden for the majority of the game? And how is it so easily explained?

Apart from the obvious answer being good writing on behalf of the team, this is a serious and deep question because this is how grooming happens in real life. This is how awful, predatory people get away with grooming children and their families.

There is an interesting part in the dark room, when Max and Jefferson are talking. Max can accuse Jefferson of using Nathan, as he mentions that the whole set up of the dark room looks like Nathan did it “for homework”. Jefferson’s response to this is quite interesting, as he states that he prefers “the term ‘manipulated’. Like with an image… Nathan’s was easy to twist around”. This is evidence that Nathan had a direct impact on the dark room and that Jefferson got away with this because of the manipulation of Nathan.

Nathan Prescott is mentally ill, undoubtedly. You can easily find a lot of evidence that points to this, such as prescription medication, letters from a doctor etc. He is very clearly unstable, and that instability comes across from the way he acts. Right from the start, in the bathroom in Episode 1, he has to give himself a forced pep talk in the mirror because he knows that Chloe is going to try to walk all over him. Just like Jefferson did… only, Nathan doesn’t see it like that. Nathan believed that Jefferson genuinely cared about him, and the scariest thing about the whole situation is that Jefferson believed in that too. Maybe it started off as something innocent, Jefferson helping Nathan here and there because “he was genuinely talented” but then Nathan’s family got involved, and it suddenly became serious. Maybe as soon as Jefferson met Sean Prescott, he saw the potential for business and for the perfect image he wanted to create, and that is when his desires became distorted. Maybe, just maybe, Mark Jefferson did initially have good intentions.

But that didn’t last. During the same conversation, Jefferson admits to becoming a father figure for Nathan, who’s father (in his words) is “an asshole”, but he only told Nathan what he needed to hear, and because of that, Jefferson had access to the Prescott family’s wealth, which paid for the dark room and all the expensive equipment. In the same conversation, Jefferson refers to Nathan as a “dumbass”, showing the lack of respect that he has for his victim.

Another possible victim of Mark Jefferson that needs to be discussed is the one and only Max Caufield. Yes, the protagonist of this game is not immune to grooming just because she has super cool protagonist powers. Throughout the game, Jefferson has very clearly taken a liking to Max, even calling her back after class to remind her to submit a photo to the contest that he literally told everyone about in class. He is someone that Max admires profusely; it is almost like she wants to be just like him when her career takes off. He is successful in the field that she wants to go into, after all. This would make sense. Jefferson, as mentioned earlier, pointed out that become a father-like figure to his students was something that happened a lot. However, it was not like that with Max. She admired his work more than anything else; there is even a chance that you could tell the principle that he was at fault for Kate Marsh’s suicide. From the evidence available, it is assumed that Victoria has been fully groomed by Jefferson as she is his next dark room victim; Jefferson is slowly grooming Max, who will be his next victim after Victoria.

In conclusion, all of this is subject to interpretation. However, there is evidence to suggest that Mark Jefferson groomed Victoria Chase to become his next dark room victim (and possibly, by extension, each victim before that). There is a substantial amount of evidence that suggests that Mark Jefferson also groomed Nathan Prescott, and perhaps his family (although his family is not shown in this game). Jefferson goes as far as admitting that he manipulated Nathan for his own personal gain. However, as said many times throughout this post, in a game that deals so well with throwing issues such as suicide and violence in your face, this is kept scarily under wraps. There are very subtle hints to this throughout the entire game, and it becomes apparent when Max rewinds time after being in the dark room. The subject of grooming is never really thrown in your face while playing this game, which only makes it more realistic as grooming in real life is hardly noticeable from an outsider standpoint.

Published by eleanorreeswriting

Hi, I am an autistic gamer in my 20's who loves to share my experiences and thoughts about games, characters and everything about gaming.

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